Download a PDF of this Lesson Plan
• Identify reasons people serve in the military
• Explore the relationship between military service and civic
• Assess the impact of combat on members of the armed forces
• Examine the dissension that occasionally arises between
military service and personal feelings regarding combat
• Write a monologue in the voice of an unknown solider about
experiences in a famous battle or war
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
27: Understands how certain character traits enhance citizens' ability
to fulfill personal and civic responsibilities
United States History
14: Understands the course and character of the Civil War and its
effects on the American people
21: Understands the changing role of the United States in world
affairs through World War I
25: Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character
of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role
in world affairs
27: Understands how the Cold War and conflicts in Korean and Vietnam
influenced domestic and international politics
National Standards for Civics and Government (Center for Civic
V. What are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?
B. What are the rights of citizens?
C. What are the responsibilities of citizens?
E. How can citizens take part in civic life?
• The film American Valor (www.pbs.org/shop)
• Television and VCR or DVD player
• Chart paper and markers and/or chalkboard and chalk
• Computers with Internet access
The entire lesson will take 5-7 classroom periods to complete.
NOTE: It is assumed that students have viewed American
1) Ask students why people serve in the military. They may note reasons
that include patriotism, career opportunity, and conscription or selective
service, “the draft”. Encourage them to share stories
of people with whom they are familiar, who have been or are in the
armed services. Ask students to identify some of the reasons those
interviewed for American Valor joined the armed forces.
2) Discuss with the class what status serving in the armed forces
holds in the nation’s constitutional democracy. Is it a right
or a civic responsibility? Is it a mandated activity for all citizens?
When is one required to serve in the military? How does one negotiate
being required to serve if he or she has anti-war sentiments? Are
certain people exempt from serving? Why do people volunteer to join
the military? Provide students background on selective service and
those who choose not to serve (conscientious objectors) when required
to do so.
3) Ask students to discuss their feelings about war. Do they feel
it is necessary? How might they respond to being drafted into the
military? How might they respond if they had to participate in combat?
How might they feel if they came face to face with the enemy? Encourage
students to share stories of people with whom they are familiar,
who participated in combat.
4) Ask students to recollect the feelings American Valor
interviewees had regarding their participation in the armed forces
and combat. How do most of them balance their military responsibilities
and individual feelings about war and combat? For some interviewed,
such as Jon Cavaiani, there
is a turning point during their term when they have different feelings
about the war in which they are fighting. Who else in the film has
similar experiences? Describe them. Might all of those interviewed
have enlisted if selective service had not existed during their lifetimes?
4) Have students review the film segments in which Medal of Honor
winner John Baca shares his experience
of encountering an enemy solider and the work he undertook in Vietnam
after the war. What do his actions suggest about his involvement in
the Vietnam War? How did he negotiate his feelings when encountering
an enemy soldier? Why does he return to Vietnam to assist the North
Vietnamese? Would students have acted similarly had they been in Baca’s
I walked the point I think Christmas, Christmas morning, I saw
this North Vietnamese soldier sitting on a, a trail on a bunker. And
I just kinda caught him off guard and surprised him. And I was away
from my, I was like, it was just him and I, and his rifle was beside
him, and I just knew like, you know, God, I don’t want to shoot
this guy, and he doesn’t want to die, you know, I’m afraid,
there’s nobody here, what do I do? and I knew what to say to
him, surrender, you know, choo hoi, and that was the words he wanted,
and I motioned for him to move to another area, say like, covering,
so I could run down there and pick him up, and I did. And I had pictures
of my mom and my sisters, and I shared them with him, and he had pictures
of his family. And I knew, what are we doing, you know? You know,
he just, he’s happy he didn’t, he didn’t die. He
was 16 years old, fighting for his country. You know, and I think
taking that guy and realizing and you know, what, it kind of changed
the morale, kind of mellowed people out. It was a, it was a beautiful
time, it was like a beautiful Christmas gift.
In 1990 I went back to Vietnam with my friend Art. And there was eight
of us that went back, and we stayed for two months. For six weeks
we worked, we worked alongside the North Vietnamese out, 12 kilometers
outside Hanoi building an American/Vietnamese Friendship Clinic. And
somehow you know that, that kid I took alive, you know, 20 years earlier,
my Christmas gift, and somehow his, he was there in that crowd working
with us. You know, those Vietnamese just befriended us, loved us.
5) Have students select a major war or a battle (starting with the
Civil War) in which the US was involved (It might be helpful to
offer students a list of such battles. It is recommended that each
student have a different battle to research.). Instruct students
assume the role of an unknown soldier. In their monologues, they
should provide accurate historical information on the selected battle
and imagine the soldier’s emotional state during combat, particularly
the negotiation of feelings and civic duty.
Create a rubric that evaluates student involvement in class discussion
and group participation. Students can maintain portfolios that chart
the progress of their monologues.
• Write reviews of several books of combat narratives (Refer
to these sites for book information: World War II Books Reviewed:
First-Hand Accounts and Autobiographies http://www.jodavidsmeyer.com/combat/bookstore/latest.html;
Military Personal Narratives http://www.slmn.org/products/category.php?
• Interview local veterans about their combat experiences
• Interview enlisted service people yet to fight in war about
their feelings and civic duty as military personnel
• Create timelines of major battles during major wars, with
an emphasis on how they altered the course of history
United States Army
Famous Battles in Marine Corps History
Wars and Conflicts of the United States Navy
Battles that Changed History
About the Author:
From classroom instructor to an executive director, Michele Israel
has been an educator for nearly 20 years. She has developed and
managed innovative educational initiatives, taught in nontraditional
settings in the U.S. and overseas, developed curricula and educational
materials, and designed and facilitated professional development
for classroom and community educators. Currently operating Educational
Consulting Group, Israel is involved with diverse projects, including
strategic planning and product development.
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